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Dizzying Even for Disney : Long-Awaited Water Ride Opens Quietly, Receives Good Grades From Thrill-Seeking Park Patrons

Times Staff Writer

Was Splash Mountain worth the wait? Disneyland patrons seemed to think so Wednesday as they hung on to their mouse ears and tried out the park’s new water-flume ride.

After spending eight months fixing design glitches in the world’s most elaborate flume ride, Disneyland unofficially opened Splash Mountain to the public this week. And the public seemed pleased.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jul. 07, 1989 CLARIFICATION
Los Angeles Times Friday July 7, 1989 Orange County Edition Business Part 4 Page 6 Column 4 Financial Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
The Splash Mountain attraction at Disneyland will open permanently to the public July 18. Until then, the ride will run intermittently during a testing period that began earlier this week.

“It’s one fast ride. It’s really fun--but scary too,” said Shana Koch, a 9-year-old from Yreka.

“They try to fake you out like it’s not going to be a good ride--there’s nothing to start with,” said John Sparrer, a labor union president from San Jose who has waited in Splash Mountain queues three times in three days. “Then the animated characters are pretty cute . . . and there’s a great plunge at the end.”

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In fact, Splash Mountain, based on the 1946 Disney movie “Song of the South,” is the speediest thrill ride in the park when its logs make their final, five-story descent into a foggy brier patch.

It was that final plunge that caused most of the delay in Splash Mountain, which was initially scheduled to open last November.

Design flaws with the log-shaped boats caused passengers to get soaked during the ride’s 45-m.p.h. drop. To prevent patrons from getting drenched on cold days, Splash Mountain designers spent months redoing parts of the attraction.

The troubles seemed to fade away this week, when Disneyland began allowing customers to try the ride. The so-called soft opening gives the Anaheim park time to test the attraction and eliminate remaining bugs before the official opening on July 17.

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“It’s basically a testing period,” said Bob Roth, a park spokesman. So while the park will continue testing until the ride officially opens, there could be times when it is not running.

That is exactly what happened Wednesday afternoon, when technical problems caused Splash Mountain to shut down for about 30 minutes, to the dismay of patrons who had been waiting as long as an hour in lines that stretched to the park’s Haunted Mansion.

Even so, most were like Andy Sparrer, 18, a student from San Jose who chose to continue waiting even after park attendants closed the ride. “It doesn’t matter. It’s worth the wait,” said Sparrer, who, like John Sparrer, has tried the attraction three times in the last three days.

Once on board the hollowed-out logs, riders start out slowly, gliding through a bright green forest of hanging vines in the springtime. They float past a snoring bear and into a series of trees, rocks and reddish-brown tunnels.

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By the time patrons get to the lavish musical finale, 30 “Audio Animatronics” critters--some of them transplanted from the now-defunct “America Sings” attraction--are silhouetted on a bayou on a rocking showboat, surrounded by an autumn sunset of animated golden rays.

Along the way, a menagerie of rabbits, crocodiles and squirrels sing the Uncle Remus tale of how Br’er Rabbit outwits the fox who wants to turn the hare into some fast food.

The Disney surprises are there. Patrons who watch closely, for example, can see Br’er Rabbit leaving home on a handcart, or watch the hapless rabbit as he is tied up and about to be roasted in a caldron. There’s a good view of Br’er Bear’s backside as he gets stuck head-first in a beehive.

And like any Disney legend, the tale ends happily--but not before customers get hurled down the ride’s final drop into the brier patch.

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But for many riders who tried out the new attraction this week, the story wasn’t what mattered. Several, in fact, had no idea who Br’er Bear or Br’er Rabbit were. “It’s just lots of fun,” said Sparrer, the labor union president.

With a capacity of 2,000 patrons per hour, Splash Mountain (nicknamed “Cash Mountain” by some industry observers) could increase Disneyland’s attendance 2% to 10% during its first year of operation, said Bob McTyre, vice president of marketing and entertainment. Disneyland’s annual attendance is about 13 million.


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